Last month, a small plane made an emergency landing in Los Angeles County. It was not particularly noteworthy as fortunately no one was hurt. The pilot managed to make a hard landing in a warehouse parking lot with the only damage being to the aircraft’s wing as he clipped a stop sign on his way down. The incident’s noteworthiness is that the pilot, who was the only person on board, was arrested for being under the influence of alcohol. It’s amazing that he did such a good job of landing because he was seriously off course — he was flying from Temecula to San Diego, or so he thought.
According to news reports, the pilot was arrested for misdemeanor DUI. If that is the only charge he faces, he’ll be getting off easy. Piloting an aircraft, even a private single-engine plane, falls under federal regulations. Flying while under the influence is a violation of the Federal Regulations and under the regulations, a pilot cannot fly a plane for eight hours after consuming an alcoholic beverage. (14 CFR 91.17.) The FAA will begin license suspension proceedings against any pilot found to have been drinking within eight hours of flying and criminal prosecution under the federal code is also possible.
Moreover, California has its own law regulating drunken flying, which prohibits a person with a 0.04 percent or more BAC from operating an aircraft. (California Public Utilities Code §21407.1) As with the DUI laws, there is implied consent and a pilot’s refusal to submit to chemical testing results in an automatic one-year suspension of his or her pilot’s license and other consequences. A conviction for a first-time offense is imprisonment in county jail of not less than 30 days, with a maximum of six-months or a fine of $250 to $1,000 or both imprisonment and fines.
While most of us aren’t flying airplanes, and I hope those of us who are, are doing so sober, the flying under the influence laws are not confined to piloting a plane. Drones, which are becoming quite the toy, are aircraft according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).( FAA v. Raphael Pirker) Because of the NTSB ruling, the laws pertaining to drunken flying may apply to a person who is found to be flying a drone while under the influence. For example, the aforementioned California law, Public Utilities Code section 21407.1, makes it unlawful for any person under the influence of alcohol or drugs to “operate an aircraft.” It makes sense when you think about it because drones can be a hazard and a drunken drone operator could be a disaster waiting to happen. Now, I haven’t actually seen a case of Drone DUI but the possibility is there.
Oh, and by the way, the flying under the influence law (section 24107.1) also makes it unlawful to skydive while under the influence. Flying, skydiving, or even operating a drone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is just not smart and could result in consequences much more serious than ending up in Los Angeles when you think you are flying to San Diego.
William Weinberg is an attorney with over 20 years defending DUI cases and he is available to consult with you about your matter by contacting him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.